Some Drivers Still Oblivious About Automated Systems, IIHS Faults the Name Game

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
some drivers still oblivious about automated systems iihs faults the name game

Many consumers continue to misunderstand the driver-assistance technologies being placed in modern vehicles, according to the latest survey released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. But we don’t need the IIHS to tell us that. We’ve been documenting the avoidable accidents created whenever motorists overestimate what their high-tech cars are capable of for years now.

However, the insurance institute and numerous consumer advocacy groups have suggested that big part of the problem stems from the names manufacturers are using to describe their semi-autonomous hardware. Titles like “Autopilot” or “Driving Assistant Plus” can be confusing to somebody who didn’t bother to read the manual, especially when the associated marketing materials are often helping to steer them further in the wrong direction.

“Current levels of automation could potentially improve safety,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “However, unless drivers have a certain amount of knowledge and comprehension, these new features also have the potential to create new risks.”

No new vehicle can be considered truly self-driving. In fact, the most cutting-edge whips on the market are still sitting at SAE Level 2 — which requires a driver to be actively engaged and take over at a moment’s notice to ensure safety. But the IIHS feels that some of the monikers being thrown around by automakers are misleading their customers and wanted to see if it could prove it.

From the IIHS:

For the survey, more than 2,000 drivers were asked about five Level 2 system names currently on the market. The names were Autopilot (used by Tesla), Traffic Jam Assist (Audi and Acura), Super Cruise (Cadillac), Driving Assistant Plus (BMW) and ProPilot Assist (Nissan). Participants were told the names of the systems but not the vehicle brands associated with them and weren’t given any other information about the systems.

None of these systems reliably manage lane-keeping and speed control in all situations. All of them require drivers to remain attentive, and all but Super Cruise warn the driver if hands aren’t detected on the wheel. Super Cruise instead uses a camera to monitor the driver’s gaze and will issue a warning if the driver isn’t looking forward.

Each participant answered queries about two randomly chosen systems. Questions revolved around whether or not particular behaviors were safe while using that particular driving aid. When asked if it would be acceptable to remove one’s hands off the wheel while using the technology, 48 percent of people asked about Autopilot said they thought it would be, compared with 33 percent (or fewer) for the other suites. Autopilot also had higher proportions of people assuming it would be safe to talk on their phone, send texts, and even put on a video.

However the really horrifying numbers came from individuals who felt it was okay to take a nap. Of those surveyed, 6 people thought it would be just fine to catch up on their sleep using Telsa’s Autopilot. Rival systems averaged 3 people feeling similarly. The good news is that the advocates for sleeping behind the wheel only represented a small portion of drivers surveyed (less than 5 percent). But the fact that anyone felt that way is still disconcerting, especially when you imagine them trying it next to you on the highway or recall that a few people have already died under similar circumstances.

While added pressure has encouraged several manufacturers to try and be clearer with their customers, the IIHS fears that hasn’t been sufficient. “Tesla’s user manual says clearly that the Autopilot’s steering function is a ‘hands-on feature,’ but that message clearly hasn’t reached everybody,” Harkey said. “Manufacturers should consider what message the names of their systems send to people.”

[Images: Metamorworks/Shutterstock; IIHS]

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  • FreedMike FreedMike on Jun 20, 2019

    We can say that people who let their cars drive themselves with this half-baked tech get what's coming to them when the tech fails, but that's not quite accurate, is it? After all, it's just a matter of time before some idiot lets his car self-drive itself into a school bus or a minivan full of kids. Maybe then we'll figure out how to regulate this properly.

  • APaGttH APaGttH on Jun 20, 2019

    Words matter and have weight. I think what many in the B&B miss is that 98% of people on the planet aren't as enthusiastic about automotive technology as the B&B. What seems so "obvious" to them is a mystery to basically - everyone. Ya, but all my friends get it. Ya, because of birds of a feather, etc. etc. etc. See I have autopilot just like a plane! Ya, and autopilot will happily fly you into a mountain, another plane, until you run out of fuel...

    • See 1 previous
    • El scotto El scotto on Jun 23, 2019

      Looking Sheepish. As someone who spends way too much time on on I-70 & I-95, GM's Supercruise has me intrigued.

  • MrIcky Out of the possible Jeep recalls to bring up on this site, I'm surprised it's this one and not round 2 of the clutch recall.
  • Dukeisduke I saw a well-preserved Mark VII LSC on the road not too long ago, and I had to do a double-take. They still have a presence. Back when these were new, a cousin of mine owned an LSC with the BMW turbo diesel.
  • Dukeisduke I imagine that stud was added during the design process for something, and someone further along the process forgot to delete it after it became unnecessary.
  • Analoggrotto Knew about it all along but only now did the risk analysis tilt against leaving it there.
  • Mike Beranek Funny story about the '80 T-bird. My old man's Dart Sport had given up the ghost so he was car-shopping. He & I dropped my mom at a store and then went to the Ford dealer, where we test-drove the new T-Bird (with digital dash!)So we pull up to the store to pick mom up. She walks out and dad says "We just bought it.". Mom stares at the Mulroney- almost 13 grand- and just about fell over.Dad had not in fact bought the T-Bird, instead he got a Cordoba for only 9 grand.